Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gratitude and and Example of What DOES Work for Me

About eight years ago, I made a change that turned my head and my life around. I took the complaint-free challenge from Patti Digh, who in turn had heard about it from Christine Kane. I sent off for a free purple bracelet from A Complaint-Free World and started the attempt to rewire my brain. I would attempt never to complain, criticize, or gossip. I would attempt not Will Bowen's suggested 21 straight days, but Patti Digh's 37 days without a single slip up. When I slipped, I would move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again from scratch. The first day, I slipped up several times each hour. By the end of the week, I was changing the bracelet to the other arm only a few times a day. After several weeks, I made it to four days straight before a slip. Finally, at the end of about five or six months, I did it. And my neural pathways had been rewired along with my outlook on life.

It's probably time for a refresher course, if I'm to be honest. I appreciate that I work with a crew of teachers who eschew gossip and will tactfully guide me back on track if I go that direction. As for complaining, I should probably clarify and let you know that there is a kind of communicating to bring about change that I do not avoid. Eckhart Tolle explains the difference between the sort of complaining that serves no purpose other than to strengthen the ego and complaining to bring about change (without personalizing) in this video:

Alongside the Complaint-free Challenge, I also took up--for one year--a habit of recording in a gratitude journal five things each day for which I was grateful. This was perhaps as potent as the bracelet challenge in reprogramming my mind. After one year, I was left with a brain that sees reason for gratitude all day long, from dawn to sleep, everywhere it casts its gaze.

That brings me to today's intention. What in the world of teaching settlement English in Canada gives me reason to feel grateful? I could go on for pages, but I'll stick to my old habit of listing five at a time.
  • I work in an organization that values transparency and accountability. Though we may sometimes get off track, there is a process in place through which we can eventually right the boat when it begins to list to one side.
  • There are quality materials freely available to me for use in my classroom, and I thank the TESL professionals who poured months or years of thought, time, and energy into their creation. There is a lot out there that I would continue to use whether the current Canadian AFL experiment is scrapped or made optional.
  • I feel so fortunate to live in a land and particularly in a city that welcomes refugees and immigrants, as well as in a society that sees the value in investing in free settlement English classes for newcomers. Such services are not available in the same way throughout the country from which I immigrated almost 20 years ago.
  • I am appreciative of those who have involved themselves in good faith in the Canadian pedagogical experiment as project leads or resource creators. It isn't your fault that the entire house was designed from the roof down before checking the quality of the soil. Operative words: in good faith. For the others, well, that's not going on this blog post.
  • I appreciate those who, in these strange times, find the courage to speak truth to power.
This week I found myself particularly grateful for a resource my colleague Lucy found on (the new and much improved ♥ iteration of) Tutela.  The OPH-OCDSB Collaborative Team, the acronyms within which stand for Ottawa Public Health and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, has created a series of health-related lesson plan cum activity books complete with rationale statements, instructor notes, skill-specific activities, assessment tools that can be put in student portfolios, and student self-reflection activities at the end of each module.

Specifically because I have been excused from strictly following the funder's non-negotiables of what we are calling Portfolio Based Language Assessment, I was able to use this resource this week with my seniors class. Although their benchmarks range widely from 2 to 8, they prefer to work with material that is geared for high 2, low 3. Because they are out of the workforce and have vastly different needs from a mainstream LINC student, I feel it is in their best interest to allow them to cherry-pick and help me sculpt a syllabus that is tailored to their very special situation. For reasons such as these, I do not press them to attempt ever higher level material when they do not wish to do so.

In any case, because this class has been excused from trying to chase after 8-10 portfolio artifacts per skill in 300 instructional hours (which turns into more like 170 classroom hours per five-month term at my centre), we were free to move through the lessons in the Mental Health for CLB 2-3 book at our own pace. We were able to stop midway and have a guest speaker. We were able to pause for a Peace Week activity, which nicely tied in to our learning about stress, self-care, and culture shock, actually. I was able to get more sleep knowing someone else had already written a resource that meets my standards for resource quality.

This week, having practiced all the functions, we will use the assessment tools and the learner self-reflection activity and will place those in student portfolios--the big three-ring-bound ones that live at school since they are too heavy for seniors to carry home daily.

So what sets this two- or three-week period of instruction apart from the compulsory PBLA model with which I do not agree? For one, the tail isn't trying to wag the dog. We first did the learning, and only when we felt ready did we move on to the next activity or quiz. We have been given permission to operate under no one-size-fits-all numeric quota for artifacts collected per term. On the contrary, with this one class I am free to truly put the learners' needs at the centre of my practice and move at a pace that makes sense for them. Secondly, everything I need for the module is provided. I do not have to stay up for hours each evening creating or searching for then modifying next resource. Mind you, even with off-the-shelf stuff, I still sometimes have to blow it up on the copy machine for weaker septuagenarian eyesight. But still. This week's morning class planning has been easy peasy.

So thank you, OPH-OCDSB collaborative team! My hat is off to you. I'll be using more of your booklets in the coming months since the seniors' most requested theme is health.

How about you? For those of you caught in the madness of PBLA gone wrong, would you warm to the experiment if you could put your current LINC cohort's unique needs ahead of a predetermined quota of 8-10 artifacts per skill collection period? How about if you had all resources provided, including the rubrics that did not have to be edited in the slightest for that module? If you could assess only when it felt you and your learners had arrived at the logical place to assess learning? If you could have a certain number of hiatus days per term that were free from all assessment so that students could just learn for the sheer joy of it? Or devote entire weeks to grammar just because they want to? I would love to get your feelings on that in the comments section below.


  1. OK - you posted early so I am going to comment early!!

    I too am in a mode of "I appreciate" the efforts that have gone into trying to develop Newcomer Language Strategies and to provide teachers with tools to aid us in our task of helping newcomers develop language competency and to cope with the challenges of cultural adaptation. In my 18 years of teaching ESL and LINC I have seen the unfolding of a sensible approach to finding out what new immigrants need, what's relevant to teach, and resources to support us. The LINC Curriculum Guidelines present options which can be adapted to the needs of the learnerS. We are not required to stick to a publisher's coursebook. This may be a challenge in terms of choice (and photocopying!) but leads to the possibility of pivoting and responding to the learners' social, academic and work related needs. Once more I will express my gratitude to the creators of the LINC 5-7 Activities binders. And to the 5-10 Exit tests - which although I use them sparingly and keep them under lock and key show me the format of valid, reliable, consistent assessments. ( lol - I also guard my On Target possessively! )
    Coincidently today I was looking through and was impressed by how far Tutela has come. The new version bears the fruit of much revision and it really is becoming a userfriendly excellent resource for teachers. Kudos.

    I don't want to spoil the positive mood - attitude of gratitude - to everyone: Integration and Settlement experts, policy analysts, writers, administrators, fellow teachers, learners, etc who have all played a part in bringing us to where we are today. There is a lot to be proud of. I am going to trust that truth and integrity are important to all and that this or thst policy that needs reviewing will be honestly examined and if found wanting will be revised or rejected - no matter the disappointment of some that it did not do what they hoped it would, or the perceived loss of face. I used to sell cars ( Ford). A guiding principle in business today is if a defectvis found - come clean immediately. Not to do so,so leads to loss of credibility...and to throwing good money after bad.

    I too am grateful to be able to do what I love (teach!) and to have the privilege of knowing my teaching makes a difference.

    1. Today I am feeling hopeful that sanity and common sense will eventually win out. --K

  2. I think people who work with newcomers are a thankful bunch anyway, but I agree changing your mindset to be positive and thankful makes life better. I am thankful you both find Tutela 3.0 much improved!

    1. Thank you for all you do, Diane. Where would this field be without all the volunteer hours we put in? --K

  3. Grateful for brave people.

  4. There are a lot of things to be thankful for; I also truly appreciate the privilege of working with adult newcomers to Canada. With any tool or method, we're never done. There is always improvement that can be made. Listening to practitioners who have continuous intake 25+ size classrooms makes sense.

    10 years from now we will look back on this as a necessary learning curve.

    1. Or 10 years from now we may look back with embarrassment at the whole fiasco. I'm sorry, but I respectfully disagree with your assessment of the situation. When something is 80% valid, I'll go along with continuous improvement. But so many have already been so badly burned from having been patronized, patted on the head, browbeat into submission, or by having their complaints of impossible workloads and stress levels dismissed as "whining" (or worse treatment) that they will never view this field the same way again. I've already lost two colleagues full time and two more have gone to half time. Enough is enough. I'm not sure that even a major overhaul is enough to right all the wrongs or if there is at this point a way to make things right. --K

    2. The Toronto District School Board is the most recent to be hit by PBLA and maybe PBLA finally poked a dragon. Let's encourage the Big Smoke to tango with PBLA. Help is needed. Enough is enough Kelly. People are burnt out.

    3. That’s exactly what we need on our awakened dragon. Somewhere there is an entity with the good sense AND the power to stare this thing down. —K

  5. I've talked to several teachers in the regular school system who were forced at one time to teach pbla. They all roll their eyes and say the workload was ridiculous and they are certainly happy that that failed experiment was finally ditched.


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